The search for life on ocean worlds
NASA has formed the Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW) to advance comparative studies to characterize Earth and other ocean worlds across their interiors, oceans, and cryospheres; to investigate their habitability; to search for biosignatures; and to understand life—in relevant ocean world analogues and beyond. The network is designed to accelerate ocean worlds research by facilitating communication among active research teams funded across NASA divisions and by expanding community-wide engagement.
Team members will investigate the diversity of physical and chemical conditions on ocean worlds and how their evolution may support conditions suitable to sustain life by identifying ocean worlds, characterizing their oceans, evaluating their habitability, searching for life, and ultimately attempting to understand any life found there. NOW will also facilitate the development of future NASA missions to Ocean Worlds, beginning with Europa Clipper, and will create a network of scientists and technologists that will help accelerate NASA’s Ocean Worlds program by providing a forum for exchange of ideas and learning across the interdisciplinary spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives represented within the network of NASA-funded ocean worlds investigators.
- Identify and stimulate novel directions of inquiry through enhanced communication within NASA’s ocean worlds PI community.
- Pursue activities that both reveal and address critical knowledge gaps in ocean worlds research.
- Stimulate and facilitate new ocean worlds collaborations to undertake high-impact interdisciplinary research.
- Identify and integrate research on Earth and other ocean worlds (e.g. oceans, their interiors, and the cryosphere) to catalyze synergistic studies that identify the conditions and potential for life.
- Cultivate and augment the training of a new generation of interdisciplinary ocean worlds researchers.
Three key areas of interest
The Network for Ocean Worlds will help guide the search for life beyond Earth by broadening the base of oceanographic expertise throughout astrobiology, but particularly in three key areas:
Exploring the distinct geophysical evolution of ice-covered ocean worlds and the processes occurring at their ice-ocean and ocean-rock interfaces provides unique opportunities for comparative studies throughout the solar system, especially in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Ocean worlds provide a first opportunity for comparative studies between Earth and other planets that are not only critical to understanding habitability beyond Earth but also to a better understanding of Earth’s ability to sustain life through time.
Analog and theoretical studies of resource exchange, the generation of life-supporting energy—especially at rock-water and ice-ocean interfaces, and signs of life in Earth’s cryosphere and ocean will advance our understanding of life on Earth and on ocean worlds.